The Gift of a Good Recipe

One of the quirky wedding gifts we received was from my friend, celebrity chef Sharwin Tee (this was a little before he became celebrity chef — he has a cooking show that’s now on its third season Curiosity Got the Chef). He emailed me a recipe for clam chowder with a thoughtful note hoping it helps us keep warm in the winters and that Japan has some great akegai clams I could use for the recipe. In the flurry of activity after the wedding and moving, the recipe got figuratively packed away and forgotten until today, as I reflected on recipes as gifts (So there, ST, I haven’t really tried making your clam chowder but I soon will!).

A good recipe is a gift that keeps on giving. I visited a dear French friend and she showed me how to make mousse chocolat. She sent me back home with a bar of dark chocolate that came all the way from France to use for my very first mousse. Since then, I have made countless batches of mousse chocolat and each time we enjoy it, we remember her fondly and recount happy memories with her and her family. Some friends who have visited us have also partaken of the rich and altogether exquisite gustatory joys of mousse chocolat.

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The very first batch of ridiculously good caramel rolls.

Finding a great recipe is always a thrilling discovery. I knew I had the perfect cheesecake recipe when someone who tried my white chocolate cheesecake said it gave him goosebumps. That  recipe came from a cheesecake book in a throwaway pile of books and I picked it up because I liked the color pencil illustrations of the cakes. Turns out the recipes were as golden as the art. My most recent fabulous finding though is a recipe for caramel rolls. I came across Mitch Omer’s cookbook Damn Good Food, autographed for my mother-in-law by Mitch himself, as my brother-in-law used to work at Hell’s Kitchen. The recipe for caramel rolls was prefaced:

My dad hated small, hard caramel rools, and he worked on this recipe for years until it was perfect. It’s kind of an involved recipe, but he put a lot of time into it, so try not to f*** it up.” (blot out, mine).

You have to like a recipe that’s irreverent. Sure enough, Mitch’s recipe delivered. These are the most amazing caramel rolls I’ve ever had. A neighbor I shared it with called them “ridiculously good” and made me blush with his praise.

Last weekend, we took part in Alishan’s Food Carnival. I made fresh vegetarian spring rolls (lumpia in Tagalog or poh pia in Hokkien) with a special sauce featuring Alishan’s famous peanut butter. Poh pia has a lot of emotional significance for me. My dad loved to eat po pia, and he would buy them every time he goes to Chinatown. He could wolf down a roll or two for lunch. For him, it was a complete meal. I got the recipe for the vegetarian version of spring rolls from my best friend who joined a small informal cooking class in Manila. My best friend’s recipe called for hoisin sauce which can easily be bought in the supermarket in Manila but I found from internet recipes that with ingredients readily found in the pantry, I could make my own hoisin sauce. Furthermore, I found that Alishan’s organic peanut butter is the best carrier for this sauce as it has no salt, sugar, additives or preservatives. Just pure and natural peanut goodness (No, this blog post is not paid for by Alishan. It just is simply the best peanut butter in the world. The kids would eat spoonfuls of the stuff straight out of the jar.). At the Food Carnival, I had the pleasure of sharing my dad’s favorite poh pia and seeing other people enjoy it. I think it would also have made him happy.

Jack, founder and owner of Alishan Organics loves good food and how it brings people physically together at table and in conversation with each other.  I think it’s a great philosophy that is at the heart of Alishan.  I also love how good recipes bear history, stories, and memories along with the goodness of the food it recreates to fill and nourish. Thanks to the internet, we are able to share this easily with each other.

So here is my recipe for Vegetarian Fresh Poh Pia, that you may also enjoy the goodness.

Sauce. Simply blend all the ingredients below.

2 tbsp Alishan’s organic peanut butter – crunch or smooth are both okay

4 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp honey

2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 garlic minced

2 tsp sesame oil

pepper and hot sauce to taste

 

Poh Pia filling.

1 carrot shredded

1/4 cabbage thinly sliced

12 pieces Baguio beans/ingen sliced thinly

1 pack of tokwa or momen tofu (drain out the water by your own preferred method)

5-6 pieces of shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried, chopped finely

 

Saute all the above ingredients in 1-2 tbsp oil. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

To assemble: Scoop 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto a spring roll wrapper. Top with about 1 teaspoon of sauce, roll it up and enjoy.

For a vegan version of this, simply omit wrapping it up (as the wrappers sometimes contain eggs) and have this dish in the style of lumpiang hubad (naked spring roll).

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